Joana and Emmanuel were young and in love. Barely out of their teens, they had their first child. Soon after, they got married and eventually had another child. They had their fair share of struggles, like many young married couples do.
After being together for 6 years, Emmanuel moved overseas for work in 2001. Their marriage became estranged, but Emmanuel continued to support his children. He kept in touch through phone calls and visits during special occasions. The last time he came home to the Philippines was in 2006.
One Sunday in February 2010, Emmanuel missed his usual phone call to the kids. Joana sent several text messages and tried calling his number but no one answered. She felt that something was seriously wrong and tried to convince her estranged husband’s siblings to try and contact him. They dismissed her concern, saying that he was probably just busy and that he would soon get in touch.
Three days later, Joana received the tragic news from her in-laws. While in his house overseas, Emmanuel had neatly arranged his belongings, laid out his insurance papers and bank statements, and then committed suicide.
ANGER AND BETRAYAL
Joana’s first reaction was anger. “I was shouting at them. I was so angry with my in-laws for not believing me when I insisted that they contact him. I was so frustrated that no one listened to me. I thought that if someone did, things would have turned out differently.”
Joana was also angry with her husband for doing what he did. “It was selfish of him to not let me, our children, or anyone else say goodbye. It was selfish of him to not let anyone have closure.”
She also felt so hurt and betrayed. After the suicide, her suspicion of another woman being in her husband’s life was confirmed. She also learned that some months before, he was already battling addiction and depression. He was on medication; he was seeing a therapist; he had made previous attempts to commit suicide. Though they had stayed civil and kept communication open for the sake of the kids, Emmanuel had kept most of his life secret.
COPING WITH LOSS AND GUILT
After she calmed down, the implications of what had happened started to set in. “What now? What about the children? How will we cope financially? He was always the main breadwinner, and I didn’t even have a full-time job.”
During the wake, she couldn’t show her own grief and confusion. Despite suddenly becoming a young widow, she had to be strong for her children and her in-laws who were feeling lost and hurt. “Suddenly, all of my husband’s relatives and old friends came pouring in. All shocked and saddened. I couldn’t even get my wish for some private time with him for our children and myself. Everyone wanted to be there right away, to say goodbye, to try to make sense of what had happened.”
After the burial, Joana and her family slowly went back to their daily lives. Her children went back to school. She took a job. Her in-laws went back to their families and routines. With this new normal, grief, guilt and regret were almost constantly in the background.
Joana would ask herself, “Maybe if I had been warmer, more accepting when he told me two months before the suicide that he was tired and that he wanted to come home. Back then, we had been estranged for so long and I had finally moved on. I wasn’t ready to just let him come back and everything would be just like before.”
“Although it didn’t quite feel like I had lost a husband because we were already estranged years before, I knew that I had lost a partner in parenting. Despite the distance, he provided for our children and he tried to be present in their lives. My children lost their father and we can never bring him back.”
FORGIVENESS AND MOVING ON
After a few years had passed, Joana is now more comfortable talking about her husband’s suicide. She has forgiven herself and is moving on, with the constant love and support of her children, family and friends. She wishes that talking about depression and suicide wasn’t taboo in the Philippines, so people suffering from depression can get help more easily before it’s too late.
She can’t say that she has accepted what has happened. There are still unanswered questions that will stay that way. “I still ask, ‘What if? But I know that no one can answer that.”
During unguarded moments, while walking alone in the mall or just before going to bed, Joana would suddenly remember her estranged husband. She knows that even though he is no longer physically around, he is still watching out for her and their children.